Wednesday, September 18, 2019

February 16, 1942: Operation Neuland Begins

Monday 16 February 1942

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"These pictures taken at the extreme forward positions around Carmuset er Regem (Karmusat ar Rijam) area near Gazala, show infantry and artillery units of the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifles Brigade facing German and Italian forces." 16 February 1942. © IWM (E 8413). 
Battle of the Pacific: At Bataan on 16 February 1942, the Allies score a major success when they almost completely eliminate a wedge driven into their Main Line of Resistance (MLR). The I Corps, holding the western half of the MLR, has reduced the salient to about 100 yards. Further south, a Japanese bridgehead at Salaiim Point also is eliminated. The surviving Japanese attempt to reach the MLR but eventually are caught after they cover about seven miles. North of Bataan, in Manila Bay, the Allies on Carabao Island continue to hold out, but today the Japanese cut their water pipeline. The men holding Fort Frank on the island begin distilling water.

In Burma, the bitter battle at Bilin River continues. The 17th Indian Infantry Division is the only large Allied formation between the Japanese and Rangoon, and the fate of Burma hangs in the balance. The two understrength Japanese infantry divisions making the attack, the 33d and 55th, are well-trained in jungle warfare and can operate independently of motor transport. The Allied troops, on the other hand, are deficient in those areas. The Japanese maintain pressure on the British garrisons but also stealthily send units through the jungle to cut off the British lines of communication. Army Commander General Hutton comes forward to see how things are going and is dismayed. The Bilin River at that time of year is dry and little more than a sandy ditch, offering little defensive aid. The Sittang River to the rear is much more useful defensively. He gives Brigadier Sir John George Smyth, V.C., commander of the 17th, permission to withdraw.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Japanese Times & Advertiser for 16 February 1942 is full of happy news for its English-speaking readers about the fall of Singapore. This is an occupation newspaper, as indicated by the carmine and green seals.
In Borneo, Japanese troops continue expanding their presence, taking Sintang, West Kalimantan. In Sumatra, the Japanese advance on Palembang from two directions and take it easily. The British now, aside from stragglers, have abandoned Sumatra. However, the evacuation has been hurried and they have left behind a lot of equipment, particularly at Oosthaven.

Japanese planes attack an Allied convoy bound for Timor. It is led by US Navy heavy cruiser USS Houston and the destroyer USS Peary. The planes score no hits, but near-misses kill two men and injure 18 others. After this incident, the convoy is rerouted to Darwin, Australian, thereby virtually abandoning any hope of holding a position on Timor.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Daily Mirror of 16 February 1942 reports the loss of Singapore, announced in a radio address by Prime Minister Winston Churchill the previous night.
In Singapore, the victorious Japanese begin their lengthy occupation. They hoist their flag over the former British governor's residence in Singapore and also rename the city "Light of the South." The name change, however, is ignored by just about everyone. The Japanese also begin recruiting from the Indian troops in Singapore. Ultimately out of about 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore, 30,000 join the Japanese-affiliated Indian National Army (INA) under the command of Rash Behari Bose. Some serve as guards over the British POWs at Changi Prison. There are still naval actions offshore, and today, the Japanese use gunfire to sink Royal Navy ship HMS Pulo Soeti in the Banka Straits (55 dead, 25 survivors).

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Time Magazine, 16 February 1942, has Soviet Marshal Shaposhnikov on the cover.
Eastern Front: Reporting from the encircled garrison at Demyansk, Generalleutnant Graf Walter von Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt reports to OKH that he has 95,000 men with him in the pocket. In order to hold the pocket, Brockdorff reports that he requires 200 tons of supplies per day. While the Luftwaffe is using every available plane to supply the Demyansk pocket, he is only receiving 80-90 tons of supplies per day.

European Air Operations: During the day, RAF No. 88 and 226 Squadrons send eight Boston bombers on anti-shipping operations off the Dutch coast. This is a new mission for the Boston bombers, their first regular one. This mission does not result in any ships attacked or bombers lost.

After dark, RAF Bomber Command sense 37 Hampden and 12 Manchester bombers to lay mines in the Frisian Islands. One Hampden and one Manchester fail to return. Another 18 Wellingtons hit different targets in northern Germany with eight bombing Bremen, seven bombing Aurich, two bombing Oldenburg, and one bombing Wilhelmshaven. Two bombers hit Schipol Airfield at Amsterdam and Soesterberg Airfield near Utrecht. The British also send 11 bombers to drop leaflets over France. One British tactic at this stage is simply to spread out their attacks in order to maximize their nuisance value, as every raid requires that city's tired workers to get out of bed and troop down to shelters. Some raids force all of the Reich's workers to do so because it is unclear where the bombers will strike. In some ways, this is more useful to the British war effort than the actual effects of the bombs dropped.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
U-156 (foreground) and U-507 (background) in September 1942 during the Laconia incident.
Battle of the Atlantic: German Operation Neuland begins on 16 February 1942. This is the extension of U-boat operations south from the Atlantic coast (Operation Paukenshchlag) into the Caribbean. The operation opens with several coordinated U-boat attacks. The strategic targets in this area are several oil refineries, the Venezuelan oil fields, and the Panama Canal. The most important refineries are on Dutch-owned Curaçao, processing eleven million barrels per month, which is the largest in the world; the refinery at Pointe-à-Pierre on Trinidad, the largest in the British Empire; and a large refinery on Dutch-owned Aruba. This region is the originating source of the four oil tankers of petroleum that the British Isles require on a daily basis. The entire United States oil industry also is concentrated along the Gulf of Mexico, so these are very high stakes indeed. The Germans have the advantage of being able to use the Vichy French facilities at Martinique, though such use is extremely limited as the Allies are closely watching Martinique.

In a very rare direct attack by Reich forces on land targets in the Western Hemisphere, U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its second patrol out of Lorient, attempts to shell Aruba. Hartenstein orders the crew to use the 37 mm (1.46 inch) deck gun to fire on the important oil refinery installation on the island. However, through sheer negligence, the two-man gun crew forgets to remove the water plug from the gun barrel. This causes the shell to explode within the barrel and throw shrapnel everywhere. The explosion kills the triggerman, Matrosengefreiter Heinrich Büssinger, and causes the gunnery officer standing nearby, II WO Leutnant zur See Dietrich von dem Borne, to lose his right leg. This disaster does not cause Hartenstein to abandon his attack, however. He orders the crew to saw off the shattered portion of the barrel, and they pump 16 rounds at the refinery. The shortened barrel, however, is not as accurate as it otherwise might be at long range, so only two shells are reported to hit the target. They cause a dent in an oil storage tank and a hole in a house. After this, Hartenstein sets a course for another part of the island.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SS Oranjestad, sunk by U-156 on 16 February 1942.
Before the attack on the oil refinery, Hartenstein at 01:31 torpedoes two Lago Company oilers in San Nicholas Harbor. Both ships, the SS Pedernales and Oranjestad, are loaded with oil and burst into flames. There are 8 deaths and 18 survivors on the Pedernales and 15 deaths and 7 survivors on the Oranjestad. At 03:13, Hartenstein puts one torpedo into US Texaco-owned tanker SS Arkansas at Eagle Beach (nest to the Arend/Eagle Refinery). The ship settles to the shallow harbor bottom but there are no casualties.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SS San Nicholas, sunk by U-502 on 16 February 1942.
U-boats are active elsewhere in the Caribbean, too. U-502 (Kptlt. Jürgen von Rosenstiel), on its third patrol out of Lorient, has a big day off the Venezuelan coast. During mid-morning, it sinks three ships:
  • 2395-ton British freighter Tia Juana (17 dead, nine survivors)
  • 2650-ton Venezuelan freighter Monagas (five dead, 26 survivors)
  • 2391-ton British freighter San Nicolas (seven deaths, 19 survivors).
These U-502 attacks seriously disrupt the flow of oil from the important Venezuelan oil fields.

U-67 (Kptlt. Günther Müller-Stöckheim), on its third patrol out of Lorient, damages 3177-ton Dutch tanker Rafaela one mile north of Willemstad, Curaçao. The ship is towed to port but there it breaks in two and sinks. Rafaela later is raised, repaired, and returned to service.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SS Ramapo, sunk by U-108 on 16 February 1942.
U-108 (KrvKpt. Klaus Scholtz), on its sixth patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes and sinks 2968-ton Panamanian freighter Ramapo about 180 miles north of Bermuda. The Ramapo is traveling as an independent and the torpedo strikes at 15:56, breaking the ship in two after a boiler explosion. Captain Scholtz surfaces and questions the survivors in their lifeboats, but they are never found. All forty men perish.

U-564 (Kptlt. Reinhard Suhren), on its fourth patrol out of La Pallice, uses its 88 mm deck gun to damage independent British tanker Opalia about 300 miles northwest of Bermuda. U-564 fires all 83 rounds in its inventory but does not succeed in sinking the tanker, hitting it with only three rounds. The tanker makes it to port and suffers only three injured men due to shell splinters.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SS Pedernales sinking, 16 February 1942.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Governor/Commander of Malta reports to Whitehall that he needs more artillery and men to fire them. Luftwaffe air activity over the island has increased markedly. Today, there are multiple attacks. A Junkers Ju 88 drops eight bombs on Luqa aerodrome and escapes unscathed, two other Junkers 88 bombers drop bombs on Ta Qali and in the sea off Grand Harbor, a Junkers drops four bombs on St. Paul's Bay, and other bombers attack Ta Qali again. There are other bombing attacks as well and numerous fly-bys. The air situation has become nerve-wracking for the British. However, unbeknownst to the Allies, Hitler still has not authorized an invasion of Malta despite the obvious utility to the Wehrmacht of doing so.

War Crimes: While Singapore fell on 15 February 1942, echoes from that defining moment continue to reverberate throughout the region. In the final days before its capture, Singapore refugees sought any means of escape that they could find. Since the Japanese possessed the only airfield and there were no more large ships willing to make the dangerous passage, that meant overloaded small craft, basically anything that could float. One of those ships was the Sarawak royal yacht Vyner Brooke, which carried wounded soldiers and 65 members of the Australian Army Nursing Service from the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. Also on board the  1670-ton vessel were many civilians and assorted other refugees. This results in the Bangka Island Massacre.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The NY Times for 16 February 1942 is full of very accurate news about the deteriorating situation for the Allies in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Like many other ships leaving in the final days, the Vyner Brooke did not make it far. Japanese aircraft bombed and sank it, and whoever could swim or get in a lifeboat made it to nearby Bangka Island. An officer went to Muntok and brought back Japanese soldiers, who quickly marched the wounded Australian soldiers out of sight and bayoneted and shot them. The Japanese soldiers then returned, told the 22 surviving nurses to walk into the surf. After their matron, Irene Drummond, calls out, "Chin up, girls, I'm proud of you and I love you," the Japanese machine-gun them. The Japanese then bayoneted anyone else who they could find. Incredibly, one of the 22 nurses, Sister Lt. Vivian Bullwinkel, survives in the water despite having been shot in the gut. She manages to elude the Japanese and meet up with a British soldier, Private Patrick Kingsley, who had been bayoneted but also survived. Kingsley soon passes away from his wounds, but Bullwinkel survives three years in a POW camp and gives testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1947.

British Military: The British form the 10th Army under Lieutenant-General E.P. Quinan. Its responsibilities are Iran and Iraq. Quinan has been the commander of Iraqforce and is famous for his attention to detail (a "spit and polish" officer), something that is extremely prized in a peacetime army but not so much in chaotic war conditions.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Dignitaries and sailors attending the launch of USS Alabama, 16 February 1942 (US Navy).
US Military: The battleship USS Alabama (BB-60) is launched at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. It is the fourth and final member of the South Dakota class. As of the date of this writing, USS Alabama is a National Historic Landmark based at Mobile, Alabama and is part of a museum.

The USAAF Fifth Air Force continues organizing its forces. HQ 49th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) and 7th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) transfer from Melbourne to Bankstown, Australia with P-40s. The 8th Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) transfers from Melbourne to Canberra, also with P-40. The air echelon of the 16th Bombardment Squadron, 27th Bombardment Group, transfers from Brisbane to Batchelor with A-24s. The ground echelon remains trapped on Bataan.

Australian Military: Following the tragic losses suffered by their troops in Singapore, the Australian Chiefs of Staff recommend that "if possible, all Australian forces now under order to transfer to the Far East from the Middle East should be diverted to Australia." This indirectly is hurting the Allied situation in the Middle East, where Australian and New Zealand troops have carried much of the burden against General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. However, the Australians rightly fear the seemingly unstoppable Japanese advance southward towards them.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Dr. Seuss political cartoon published on 16 September 1942 shows Hitler and Tojo as thieves leading stolen cattle out of barns marked "Pearl Harbor," "Singapore," and "Maginot Line." Tojo says to Hitler, "Funny... Some people never learn to keep their barn doors locked." PM Magazine, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.
Japanese Government: Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo makes a speech before the National Diet in which he makes as a war aim a "new order of coexistence and co-prosperity on ethical principles in Greater East Asia." He thus basically adopts a phrase, the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," proposed by philosopher Kiyoshi Miki. This expands on the "New Order" proposed by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe on 22 December 1938. While Konoe only foresaw Japanese dominion over areas directly adjacent to Japan, Tojo now sees a much larger swathe of territory down to the Netherlands East Indies as being rightfully Japanese. Somewhat ironically, Miki is actually a Marxist who is opposed to Japanese militaristic expansion.

Hungarian Government: Regent Admiral Horthy's party pushes a bill through the legislature which establishes a vice-regency. The bill gives Horthy the right to nominate his own candidate. In practical effect, this bill seeks to establish a de facto dynasty for the Horthy family, though there remains widespread disagreement within the government of automatic succession. In due course, Horthy nominates his son, Istvan Horthy, as vice-regent. This is considered by many, including leaders of the fascist Arrow-Cross Party, as an affront to the Reich, as Istvan is known to be "no friend" of the Third Reich and Hitler does not think very highly of him. However, at this point, the Germans do not want to "rock the boat" far behind the front lines and wish enthusiastic Hungarian participation in the coming summer offensive which they believe will be decisive. So the fascists, at least for the time being, accept this development.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
 The San Bernardino County California Sun Newspaper, February 16, 1942, gives instructions for building your very own Luftwaffe fighter.
US Government: The major topic in Washington, D.C., is not military operations but how to handle people along the west coast of the United States who are ethnically or legally related to Japan. President Roosevelt sends a letter to Secretary Stimson asking him to tell Congress what the plan is. Since there is no plan yet, this is a very difficult request. The Department of Justice reports that as of 16 February 1942, the number of alien Japanese apprehended has increased to 1,266, and a Treasury agent reports to Army authorities that "an estimated 20,000 Japanese in the San Francisco metropolitan area were ready for organized action." Regardless of the accuracy of such reports, there is an urgent need for a resolution to this issue. Congress, the authorities on the West Coast, the military, and the federal bureaucracy are all groping frantically for a firm answer.

Holocaust: Heinrich Himmler issues a decree regarding German objectives behind the lines in the East. He directs that "Polonized Germans" - ethnic Germans in Poland who are resistant to Germanization - be resettled in "Old Reich territory" to complete their "re-Germanization." Anyone who resists is to be sent to a concentration camp. Meanwhile, "German farmers, laborers, civil servants, merchants, and artisans" are to be resettled in former Poland in order to create "a living and deep-rooted bastion of German people." The ultimate aim is to replace the native population of Poland with a reliably "German" one and force the native population to become truly German. Ruthless measures are approved for this process, including confiscation of property, land, and assets.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Newsweek magazine for 16 February 1942 highlights the growing use of female labor in wartime factories.
American Homefront: While World War II is well underway, the Supreme Court of the United States is still deciding cases arising out of World War I. Some of them have obvious applicability to World War II situations. In UNITED STATES v. BETHLEHEM STEEL CORPORATION (315 U.S. 289, 291), the Court declines to force a steel plant to disgorge "unconscionable" profits from wartime ship construction under the Emergency Shipping Fund Act. The Court finds that corporations are entitled to their profits from war contracts even if some people consider them excessive and that any issue of war profiteering must be addressed by Congress. There may be an element of calculation in at least the timing of this decision, as the federal government desperately needs private businesses to step forward and fill military needs. Reassuring them that they can keep their promised profits aids the current war effort.

Polish soldiers in Libya, 16 February 1942 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Life magazine, 16 February 1942, highlights soldier-civilian relations.


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